We have been visiting the African bush for years and we try to take every opportunity we can to get out there. There is a sense of stillness and excitement when one is in the bush that is quite unique. The buzzing ‘silence’ sets your senses working overtime: sight, sound, smell, taste and even touch get a fair share of work in the bush.
We have experienced all sorts of bush lodges and we have wanted to visit the Sabi Sands Game Reserve for years. The region’s reputation for good game viewing is well established. We had read books, watched documentaries and followed the progress of famous leopards over the years. Last year we decided it was time to visit Londolozi, well-known for its amazing leopard viewing opportunities and situated in the popular Sabi Sands Reserve.
On one of our first rides into the bush we met with an older male leopard, just waking up out of his afternoon nap. Londolozi is a private game reserve and rangers may go off-road and follow game into the bush when appropriate. We had a good opportunity to take close-up shots of the handsome male seen above and another below.
Getting to see and in particular photograph leopards was high on our wishlist. We were very lucky to see leopard on more than one occasion. The rangers take great care when they approach animals – many of the animals, as you’ll come to find, are habituated to the presence of vehicles. This is of course great for photography and game-viewing.
On our last full day at Londolozi we were treated to a spectacular display of a male and female leopard courting and mating. For thirty minutes we witnessed them vocalising to each other, walking around, flopping down – ensuring that the species continues to thrive!
The excitement of the bush is that you never know what may appear just over the next rise or behind the next bush. On one of our morning drives we visited a hyena den. At least one mother, an older cub and two younger cubs were present. Hyenas evoke many responses but cute is rarely one of those. We definitely had the cute response when we saw following scene.
The two cubs were chasing each other like domesticated puppies, playing and fighting over a piece of bark. They were having the time of their lives, we did too. For at least twenty minutes, they ran around the termite mound and raced past the vehicle and one of them gave one of the tyres a playful bite. Because it was overcast on this morning, I set my camera in manual mode (by histogram check). Light conditions being the same for the time we were there, I didn’t have to reset the light settings on my camera. It was a very special encounter.
We left the scene as the smallest and cutest one glanced at us as if to say: “Oh … were you there ?”.
During an afternoon drive we came close to a group of giraffe and our ranger decided to give this group of eight a closer look. He parked the vehicle and invited us to follow him in single file as we carefully approached the herd on foot! It was really special to be on the same ‘level’ as the game, although that is not entirely applicable in this case. The eight giraffe all looked at us then turned and slowly continued on their way moving into a thicker part of bush. Since we were positioned with the sun in front of us, I processed this image to make it even more dramatic.
The past year has been one of the worst with regards to the poaching of rhino in South Africa. On average three rhino were (and probably still are) poached per day. Private patrols have been effective in helping to protect these magnificent animals.
We were also lucky to see a group of three grazing rhino, also known as a ‘crash’ of rhinos. It was very special.
In all of our years in the bush I have seldom seen cheetah. It was therefore very special to come across this beautiful female. It was later on the morning drive and she was in hunting mode – constantly looking around. She then jumped on a fallen tree to have a better view of the surroundings.
I asked our ranger if we could move the Land Rover, to better position the vehicle in relation to the sun position. In the below image the sun is further behind us and she gave us a stunning view of her.
At one stage she suddenly accelerated away from us in pursuit of a steenbok, a small antelope. The chase was brief, the little steenbok escaped and after that she searched for some shade to recover from the sprint.
Often when one sees buffalo there are only a few animals in view. If there are more they are usually hidden deeper in the bush. We entered the open plain in the middle of the Londolozi concession and we were in the middle of an enormous herd of buffalo grazing, resting and socialising. Amazing.
Lions are always a big attraction. Despite their reputation, one mostly sees them lying down and doing pretty much nothing. They usually rest in the heat of the day and generally only become active as the light goes. Our sighting was no exception.
They yawned and stretched and changed lying positions. Nevertheless, I was able to capture proof of their reputation. Note the teeth in the following image.
A complete BIG 5 experience – ticking elephant off on our list! We saw them a number of times in the reserve, placid and relaxed – a good sign as it indicates they have been leading a peaceful life.
This disturbingly still elephant was simply taking an afternoon nap.
Our visit was a very satisfying experience – I was going home with a slightly overwhelming number of images to keep me busy for a while.
Lesley was keen to meet Elmon Mhlongo, one of the longest staying and knowledgeable rangers at work at Londolozi. He is the famous tracker from the Londolozi Leopard documentaries filmed by wildlife filmmaker John Varty. Here flanked by Lesley and yours truly.
Last but not least, we were very impressed with how Londolozi treats its staff and gave us a tour of the accommodation village and how operations work behind the scene. Staff live on and in the camp site boundaries. Offices, a school for the kids and an advanced learning centre are part of the community providing education facilities for staff and families. Sustainable development and community involvement are well implemented at Londolozi.
We were both very impressed by the village tour. It gave true meaning to the word Londolozi, the Zulu word for: “Protector of all living things”.
Written and Photographed by: Peter Kes.
View more photographs taken by Peter at Londolozi here.